Turkish GP 2009
JUNE 8, 2009
Race Report - The curious case of the unbeatable Button
Jenson Button won his sixth victory of the year in Turkey. His sixth in seven races. This is really an extraordinary achievement and one that has rarely been matched in the history of the sport. If has been done three times in the past: by the great Jim Clark in 1965 and by Michael Schumacher in 1994 and 2004. One can argue about 1952 and 1954 when Alberto Ascari and Juan Manuel Fangio were both totally dominant - but everyone forgets that the Indianapolis 500 was a round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship in those days and one cannot simply ignore that, just because it is an inconvenient! The thing that makes Button's achievement so impressive is that his opposition is right with him. There are no team orders to protect him and he has to pull thousandths of a second out of his hat whenever he needs them. And yet he does it. Over and over. These are not victories that Button is cruising. His car is good - very good - but it is not like the Williams-Renaults of 1992. Button is digging deep and winning in style. The Grands Prix are tense battles which are decided with a tenth here and a tenth there. A slight mistake will destroy a dream of victory. This may not make for great TV coverage, but for those who understand what they are seeing, it is terrific.
And all of this overlooks the fact that Brawn GP is a team which had to change engines in a matter of weeks before the season began, and it did just a couple of tests. The team had to overcome the sense of disruption and fears for the future. To have done what they have done is astonishing - and brilliant.
It is the Cinderella story.
"Today the car was the best it's felt all year," he smiled after the victory. "This is the first race where the car really has been absolutely perfect for me. Definitely this was a victory for all of us at Brawn. To beat these Red Bull guys fair and square was a great victory for us."
As the cars lined up on the grid the Red Bull folk were wary of Button. Sebastian Vettel was on pole, and in theory on the cleaner side of the track, but they knew that the fuel-adjusted lap times gave Button the advantage. All he needed was a good start and a few extra laps with clear air and the job would be done. Vettel would be hunted down and beaten.
In the end he did not even have to pull the trigger. Vettel got away in the lead but then he made a mistake and the dream was over. The plan was to try to surprise with a three-stop strategy, but that did not work out.
Button made a decent start from the dirty side of the grid, but his Brawn GP colleague Rubens Barrichello suffered a clutch problem, which left him at chugging speed when what was needed was a very fast car. Rubens pushed buttons and no doubt swore like a trooper but by the time he was back up to speed, he was stuck in traffic.
At Turn 10 on that first lap Vettel ran wide. Button was on him in a flash. And that was that. From the moment Button was ahead it was no longer about containment, but rather about trying to keep up and Vettel must have known that there was not much chance for him to be able to win back what he had lost
"There was a tail wind there, and actually I nearly lost it on the second lap there too," said Vettel. "It was quite tricky.
"But," he added, "it wouldn't have made such a big difference. It was my mistake, but Jenson was just too quick today. There was no holding him after that."
Button was delighted
"It was good to get away second," he explained. "Sebastian covered the inside which surprised me because it's dirty there, and I sat behind for the first half of the lap. Then he ran wide on the exit to Turn 10 and that was my opportunity. It was good that I got him there because otherwise I wouldn't really have had a chance to pass him."
Instead he was able to look at building up a lead. And that is exactly what did did. With a heavier car...
Vettel's three-stop strategy should probably have been changed.
"I knew the win was not going to happen," said Vettel. "It turned out that a three-stop was possibly not as quick as two today.
Button said he was surprised that Red Bull did not change its plan. Vettel did not give up. He fought back running with a very light fuel load in the second stint. The Brawn was running heavier and could do little, but catching is one thing, passing quite another. In the middle of the race, Button had to soak up the pressure.
"I nearly passed him in the last corners," Vettel said.
For Button it was not a nice experience.
"It's never a nice feeling to see another car catching you at a second a lap even though you know the reason is that you have more fuel," Button explained. "I covered the lines, and as soon as Sebastian pitted I pushed hard again and got the lap times down."
And that was that. Button was gone. Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber was even able to catch and pass the German with a two-stop race. When Sebastien pitted for the third time, Webber was left to lead the charge. After that the team tactfully mentioned that it would be best for Vettel not to challenge Webber. Vettel could not stop himself
"I started from pole position, my strategy didn't work, the situation was not what I wanted it to be," he said. "I enjoy driving and would rather have continued to go quick rather than slow down and carry the car home..."
For Webber second place was another solid performance, equalling his career best.
"I knew that I had to hang on as long as possible in the first stint," he explained. "It worked out pretty well and I managed to go a lap longer and save fuel, which helped me gain some time. I knew Sebastian's strategy so there was a chance to get another position. It was just a question which of us would get second. My second stint turned out well for us."
While all this was happening Barrichello was trying to recover from his start, but he was a little too wild for his own good and ended up colliding with the McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen and spun. Rubens later retired with a gearbox problem. It was Brawn's first mechanical failure of the season.
It was a frustrating day for the Brazilian.
Toyota also ended up doing well, despite the recent traumas at the Monaco GP. The result was that Jarno Trulli finished fourth and Timo Glock was eighth.
"The team deserve a lot of credit for the improvement," Trulli said. The driver too. He made up two places in the first corner, but then dropped to fourth because of a brake problem.
Behind Trulli in fifth place was Nico Rosberg, and that was a decent run for Nico.
"By the end of the first lap I'd managed to make up four positions," he said. "From there, I pushed hard to get past Trulli, and I thought I could because my pace was good, but he had a quicker car today. I hope we can keep up this momentum and score points at every race."
His team-mate Kazuki Nakajima also had a good run but his hopes of a point were ruined when a wheelnut stuck on for a few extra seconds during his second stop and he plunged down the order to 12th
"I think that was probably the best race of my career so far," he said.
Ferrari had looked quite good in practice but the race proved to be a different story. The additional heat seems to have affected the handling. Kimi Raikkonen made a poor start and never really made up for it. He finished ninth.
"Not the race we were expecting or the one we wanted," he said. "I lost valuable places and then it wasn't possible to get them back. We weren't quick enough."
Massa ended up sixth, saying that he could not have done better than that.
A painful day.
It was a rather different story down at BMW Sauber where Robert Kubica finished seventh and scored his first points of the year (a sign of the times).
"I raced well today," the Pole said. "My pace was good and I made no mistakes. The race was very hard, as nearly all the time I had someone very close behind me, and the smallest mistake would have cost a position. It was a clear step forward and we now have to keep up the speed of development."
At the end of the race he had a charging Timo Glock right with him. He had done a very impressive first stint with 30 laps of fuel on board. That took him up to fifth place. If he had been able to go the distance on the softer tyres it would have been great but he had to do a quick later-race stop in order to use the two different kinds of tyre. This netted him one point, but he deserved more. It was a good drive.
Renault had a poor day and Fernando Alonso ended up in 10th. He said that was all he could have hoped for. He started with a very light fuel load and so dropped right into the middle of the pack. Nelson Piquet ended up a disappointing 16th. Things never seem to get better for him.
Nick Heidfeld had a major handling problem on his BMW Sauber. There was little grip at the front and the car kept pulling to the left. Nick had to settle for 11th.
Things were pretty awful for McLaren as well with Lewis Hamilton 13th and team-mate Kovalainen 14th. Hamilton struggled throughout with a car that lacked grip.
"I actually enjoyed myself this afternoon, he said. "I was very heavy at the start but I just pushed and pushed. That's why I can smile - because I think I drove to my full potential. The most important thing is for us to keep our heads up and to keep pushing. I see my role from now on as helping the team to cure the problems with this year's car and to make next year's car the best it can possibly be. When the team gives me a car to win, I will win."
Kovalainen battled with Barrichello, but things were so bad that after half distance the team turned down his engine in the second half to preserve it for another event.
The Toro Rossos and Force Indias told the usual story with Sebastien Buemi beating Sebastien Bourdais as normal, while Giancarlo Fisichella disappeared early with a brake problem. Adrian Sutil had a brush with Barrichello but finished without too much drama, albeit a long way behind.
The race provided welcome relief from a stressed paddock. There was lots of talk about the politics of F1.
It is such a shame that sport is not being allowed to speak for itself.